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LI school votes feature record low average spending hike

A Three Village voter completes her ballot at

A Three Village voter completes her ballot at the Three Village Central School District budget re-vote at Arrowhead Elementary in East Setauket on June 19, 2012. Credit: Jacqueline Connor

School districts holding votes Tuesday across Long Island are offering residents the lowest average spending increase on record, with a growing number of budgets cutting costs.

Education leaders said they expect controlled costs to produce "yes" votes at the polls, but cautioned against complacency and low turnout.

Poll hours vary in the 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with balloting beginning anywhere from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and ending between 8 and 10 p.m.

Proposed spending Islandwide for the 2015-16 school year would rise an average 1.69 percent -- the lowest increase on record since one-day voting began in 1996.

Taxes would increase an average 1.71 percent, up slightly from last year's record low of 1.57 percent.

An increasing number of districts -- nine in all -- have cut overall spending for next year, compared with four districts that did so in their 2014-15 budgets. Finance experts cite falling enrollments and lower pension costs as major contributing factors.

In the Valley Stream 24 district, the proposed $27.2 million budget is down 4.4 percent from this year. North Babylon's $111.9 million spending plan carries a 1.65 percent decrease.

Five districts are projecting lower taxes next year. Freeport's decrease of 0.09 percent represents the third drop in eight years. Kishore Kuncham, the superintendent, predicted that most voters Islandwide will welcome efforts to curb costs.

"I'd be truly shocked if any budgets were voted down," said Kuncham, a former president of the Nassau chapter of the New York State Association of School Business Officials.

Some experts worry about complacency, however.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said numbers of ballots cast statewide and on the Island have decreased steadily over the past three years and are expected to drop again.

Kremer noted that control of many of the state's 700 school boards is at stake in Tuesday's vote.

"With so many significant issues -- such as teacher and principal evaluations, student assessments and school receivership -- under discussion this year, school board elections have never been more important," Kremer said.

Organizers of the Long Island Opt-Out group, which opposes state standardized testing, have endorsed at least 75 candidates in districts stretching from Westhampton Beach to Valley Stream.

The East Meadow and Patchogue-Medford systems have ballot propositions that would cause spending to exceed state-imposed tax caps. In each of those districts, a supermajority of 60 percent of those voting is required for passage of spending plans and attendant propositions.

East Meadow's proposal, approved by the school board, would fund full-day kindergarten.

Patchogue-Medford's proposition, initiated by parents whose children attend Catholic schools, would extend bus transportation to students of private and parochial schools.

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